Update, Nov. 14: The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sign off on the county-led project adding pedestrian and bicycle safety features to San Pablo Avenue and surrounding streets. Construction of the new bike infrastructure is scheduled to begin in late 2024.
Original story, Nov. 13: As the East Bay prepares to transform San Pablo Avenue into a modern urban corridor that is easier to walk, bike, take the bus, and drive on, decisions made years ago by different cities are influencing the shape of the streets and what exactly will be accommodated. One big part of the project where this is especially true is the bike lanes.
For the road’s makeover, Oakland and Emeryville want to add dedicated bike and bus lanes on San Pablo. However, Berkeley and Albany do not agree with this design. This has forced county engineers working on the redesign to create a “parallel bikeway” network of roads, mostly in Berkeley and Albany, that run alongside San Pablo Avenue. Bicyclists will be encouraged to use these smaller residential roads instead of San Pablo to get from place to place.
The Berkeley City Council will vote on conceptual designs for the bike network at a special meeting Tuesday.
Planners from the Alameda County Transportation Commission, the lead agency redeveloping San Pablo Avenue, recently revealed at an Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission subcommittee meeting which streets could be used to host the parallel bikeway.
In Oakland, bicyclists will be encouraged to use lanes built directly on San Pablo Avenue from 16th Street in downtown Oakland through Emeryville and back into North Oakland before the split onto 65th Avenue which will lead to the non-protected “parallel bikeway” bike boulevards through residential streets. That means there will be only six blocks of protected bike lanes in Berkeley for this project.
The parallel bikeway improvements would begin in Oakland at 65th Street and run through Berkeley and Albany from 65th Street to Brighton Avenue. Bicyclists would ride on 65th Street and Vallejo Street in Oakland, and 66th Street, Mabel Street, and Idaho Street in Berkeley.
County staff said speed humps and diverters, new crosswalks, flashing beacons at busy intersections, and signage and pavement markings will make these streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The design is in the final stages, although more details are needed to make it into an engineering plan. The closer the design gets to completion, the harder it will be to make changes.
According to Bike East Bay advocacy director Robert Prinz, who is also on the Oakland bike and pedestrian commission’s technical advisory committee that’s given feedback on the project, the decision not to have protected bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes on San Pablo Avenue through most of Berkeley is a result of feedback given by Berkeley residents and city officials in 2017 and 2019. At the time, Berkeley’s City Council wasn’t as aligned with the East Bay’s bike and pedestrian advocacy groups. Several Oakland and Berkeley residents also opposed dedicated bike and bus lanes on San Pablo Avenue because they require taking away car lanes.
Even after transit-focused members like Berkeley’s City Council, like Terry Taplin, were elected in 2020, Prinz said the project was already locked in. Berkeley councilmembers did vote in 2021 to extend the project’s bike lanes to Heinz Avenue and Russell Street, but there will not be any dedicated bike or bus lanes on San Pablo Avenue from Heinz to Gilman Street. The City of Berkeley is banking on the Ohlone Greenway and other bike networks to take in most new bike traffic.
Safer crossings, signals, new bus routes and schedules, among many other changes
Alameda County Transportation Commission planners say they hope to build safer crossings on San Pablo between Berkeley’s Oregon Street and Albany’s city limit by adding bus bulb-outs at AC Transit stops and new traffic signals. These kinds of traffic slowing measures will also be added to San Pablo Avenue from 20th Street in Oakland to Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, although these two cities will also have a dedicated rapid bus line.
On the other side of Berkeley and Albany, El Cerrito will soon begin constructing half a mile of protected bikeways on San Pablo between Knott Avenue and Potrero Avenue, serving cyclists going to and from the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station.
Some of the parallel bikeway streets already have upgrades, such as the 66th Street and Mabel Street traffic circle in Berkeley. Other bikeway streets will connect to streets already designated as bike boulevards or locations that, as Oakland’s official bikeways map explains, “prioritize through trips for cyclists.” Some of these boulevards, including 61st Street and Lowell Street, are in disrepair, with torn-up potholes and poor signage.
Last week, AC Transit planners announced their realignment plans for the whole system starting in 2024, including removing line 72R, which runs on San Pablo Avenue. The new realignment would run one of two lanes every seven and a half minutes.
San Pablo Avenue currently has two vehicle lanes running both directions for miles and it does not have protected bike lanes, dedicated bike lanes, or dedicated bus-only lanes.
Cyclists and pedestrians also already heavily use some of the proposed bikeways. During a lunch hour viewing at 65th Street and San Pablo Avenue this past Monday, more than two dozen cyclists could be counted pedalling through the intersection as several cars sped by.
The San Pablo parallel bikeways and bus-bike project timelines overlap. The parallel bikeways project will start construction “late in 2024,” Prinz said, and the bus and bike-dedicated lanes on San Pablo in Oakland and Emeryville will “hopefully” commence construction “sometime in 2025” after several public outreach meetings in 2024.
According to county transportation planners, they reviewed each city’s bicycle plans and had conversations with residents and transit advocacy groups before choosing the residential streets that will be used for the parallel bikeways.
Last year, county planners held an open house in Berkeley where residents spoke at length about their desires and fears around the San Pablo redevelopment. Some residents worry the removal of car lanes and parking in front of San Pablo Avenue businesses will lead to fewer customers.
Some North Oakland residents still feel this way. Dana Oppenheim, the owner of Paradise Cafe at 63rd Avenue, has worried about the San Pablo Avenue project since she discovered it might remove parking in front of her business. She said that even though she is a cyclist and wants bike lanes, her customers and food delivery people rely on that parking, as neighborhood streets nearby are used for church, school, and senior parking.
Matthew Brown, a resident of the Paradise Park neighborhood that straddles Oakland and Berkeley, told us that he “wouldn’t care too much about cyclists going through” the neighborhood because he said they’re usually well-meaning and thoughtful about helping to create safer neighborhoods. But he warned that other people in the neighborhood might not appreciate more cyclists using their streets in a bikeway.
“Some people don’t even like walking my dog around there. It’s really quiet, but maybe that’s why cyclists might prefer this because it’s safer than biking on San Pablo,” he said. At the moment, Brown said, walking and biking on San Pablo “is not a pleasant experience.”
"*" indicates required fields